They've both been in the works for a little bit, and have been tested in various forms. But now, Facebook is officially rolling out its new live audio rooms option, as well as podcast discovery and playback within the app.
First off, on audio rooms, Facebook's answer to the Clubhouse-lead audio social trend. After announcing the coming option back in April, then testing it with users in Taiwan over the last month, Facebook is now bringing its live audio rooms feature to selected public figures and Facebook Groups in the US.
As you can see here, audio rooms launched by people and/or groups that you follow will appear at the top of your Facebook News Feed, above the Stories panel. Which may point to the value that Facebook sees in the option - but then again, it's also where your Messenger Rooms video hangouts already appear, so it's largely in-line with that option.
Users will be able to sign-up for reminders of upcoming audio rooms, similar to events, while you'll also be able to tap into audio rooms from feed posts (as shown in the second screenshot above).
The UI of Facebook's audio rooms very similar to Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces, with profile images of the room hosts at the top, then listeners below that.
You'll note, in the top example, that there'll also be a 'Front Row' in the listener display, which will be reserved for paying subscribers.
As explained by Facebook:
"Listeners can also offer support and show appreciation to the public figure host of the Live Audio Room by sending Stars, which bumps those listeners up to the “front row.” The “front row” is a special section that highlights people who sent Stars, so hosts can recognize supporters (and maybe even give them a shout out during the conversation!)."
That'll provide another way for creators to monetize their Facebook efforts, with Stars being displayed on-screen to get the attention of the host/s.
Hosts will be able to invite speakers in advance, or choose listeners during the stream to join the conversation. For audio rooms within Facebook Groups, admins will be able to control whether moderators, group members or other admins are able to create a Live Audio Room.
"In public Groups, both members and visitors can listen to the Live Audio Room, but in private Groups, only members can listen."
Rooms will be limited to 50 speakers, while there’s no limit to the number of listeners that can tune in.
In addition to this, Live Audio Room hosts will also be able to select a nonprofit or fundraiser to support during their conversation, with listeners and speakers able to donate in-stream.
The initial roll-out will see selected public figures and groups able to launch audio rooms, with Facebook tapping a range of popular creators to promote the option:
- Grammy-nominated electronic music artist TOKiMONSTA will discuss female excellence and overcoming obstacles
- American football quarterback Russell Wilson will talk about how to train your mind like an elite athlete
- Organizer, producer, independent journalist and scholar-activist, Rosa Clemente will host a discussion around affirming Blackness in the Latinx community
- Hear what it’s like to live the life of a professional esports player in a Live Audio Room hosted by streamer, entertainer, and internet personality Omareloff
- Social entrepreneur Amanda Nguyen will speak with fellow changemakers about pursuing justice and making progress in an extraordinarily polarized time
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also tested out the option last week, which pointed to the coming launch, and with these popular users also trying out the function, it'll no doubt see a lot of Facebook users tuning in, and getting a feel for how its audio social tools will work.
"In the coming weeks, we’ll expand the ability for more public figures and Groups to host a Live Audio Room and introduce new features for both experiences in the coming months."
Facebook's coming late to the party, in some ways, with Twitter's Spaces now, seemingly, the leader in the audio social race, as Clubhouse downloads slow on iOS (it is still growing on Android after the recent launch of its Android app). Nevertheless, Facebook could still win out, with the focus on bringing audio rooms to groups helping to ensure that its audio broadcasts remain relevant, and are highlighted to users who've expressed interest in these topics and speakers specifically.
Discoverability is the next key challenge for audio social tools. If users log into Clubhouse and aren't able to easily find rooms that are relevant to them, they'll give up pretty quickly, and the same on Twitter, which is still not great at highlighting relevant topics based on usage. But Facebook is avoiding any algorithm mismatches in this respect by focusing on groups and high-profile public figures specifically, which may ultimately prove to be a better way to go to maximize take-up.
In addition to this, Facebook's also officially launching its new podcast support options, which will enable users to discover and listen to podcasts, without having to leave the app.
Facebook's been testing the new options over the last month, and is now set to launch with a selected group of popular podcasters.
"To start, the initial slate of podcasts will include Joe Budden of The Joe Budden Podcast; “Jess Hilarious” of Carefully Reckless from The Black Effect Podcast Network and iHeartRadio; Keltie Knight, Becca Tobin, and Jac Vanek of the LadyGang; and Nicaila Matthews Okome of Side Hustle Pro. We’ll continue to add more podcasts in the coming weeks."
The option will facilitate podcast discovery within the Facebook app, along with "a miniplayer or full-screen player experience" for playback in-stream.
"Later this summer, we’ll roll out additional features, like captions and the ability to create and share short clips of a podcast. Over time, we’ll build more unique social experiences around podcasts that make use of Facebook’s best interactive and personalized features."
Note the mention of its new 'short clips' option, which will eventually enable Facebook users to create and share short snippets (less than a minute) of podcast audio in the app. That could provide a significant boost for podcasters looking to maximize promotion and discovery of their audio content, adding new ways to reach Facebook's 2.85 billion users.
As noted, both options have been in development for some time, so it's no surprise, as such, to see them get a proper launch. But it is a significant next step for The Social Network, which is looking to build in more monetization and promotion options for creators of all types, in order to provide more incentive for them to post to Facebook, and keep their audiences engaged on the platform.
Facebook also notes that it's looking to begin testing of additional audio products in the near future "like a central listening destination and background audio listening for videos".
That could provide more ways to discover and engage with audio content in the app - and as noted, it could end up positioning Facebook to ultimately win out in the new audio social race.